Obama does not have to fear Netanyahu's reaction since the latter's popularity at home is diminishing. According to a recent opinion poll by Tel Aviv University, only 34 per cent of Israelis support his government. Image Credit: Illustration: Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

Barack Obama must be feeling ecstatic and very confident that he is going down in history as the first American president able to guarantee health care coverage for all Americans, regardless of their background or social status.

The landmark health care bill which the American president signed into law on Tuesday at a White House ceremony will eventually extend health insurance to about 32 million Americans who could not afford health insurance.

Had Obama and his Democratic Party failed to pass the bill, his status at home and abroad would have been undoubtedly diminished and his foreign policy agenda, especially on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, may not have seen the light of day.

Coincidentally, this week has been marked by yet another headline-grabbing event where several Congressmen and senators once again expressed their diehard support for Israel at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential pro-Israel lobby, which convened in Washington in the wake of a serious US-Israeli public clash over continued Israeli colonisation plans in occupied East Jerusalem.

In remarks before the conference, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not budge from their opposing positions over Israel's announcement that it plans to build 1,600 housing units in the Arab neighbourhoods of occupied Jerusalem. The Israeli leader arrogantly exclaimed to the conference that "[occupied] Jerusalem is not a [colony]" and in a hardline statement issued before his arrival in Washington he underlined that there would be no restrictions. "As far as we are concerned, building in [occupied] Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv."

However, Clinton told the AIPAC meeting that "new construction in [occupied] East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust [between Palestinians and Israelis] and endangers the proximity talks" that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is scheduled to conduct. "[US] credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, to say so, and say so unequivocally."

And just as Netanyahu was about to go to the White House for his face-to-face meeting with Obama, Haaretz reported that approval had been granted to a group of colonists to construct 20 new colony units in occupied East Jerusalem. Shockingly, this was a blatant action similar to the earlier announcement about the construction of 1,600 colony units in the occupied section of the city when Vice-President Joe Biden was in the midst of talks earlier this month with Netanyahu — an announcement that touched off the clash between the US and Israel.

Losing control

What all this action means is that Netanyahu has lost his control over some elements of his right-wing coalition government, which has two groups that are adamantly against evacuating any part of the Occupied Territories. Moreover, it underlines the fact that most western powers, especially the US, are equally guilty of complicity over the last four decades as Israel has built more than 100 colonies in the occupied West Bank, where around half-a-million Israelis live, including Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. A recent Israeli study has revealed that Israeli colonies in the West Bank have cost more than $17 billion (Dh62.5 billion) to build. Under international law, all colonies built on occupied land are illegal.

But it is too early to tell what took place in the closed meeting at the White House since both sides have refused to talk to the press. But this does not mean that Obama has his hands tied. For one, he can suspend US aid to Israel, now estimated at more than $3 billion (Dh11 billion) a year. Moreover, the US is reportedly Israel's "principal" arms supplier, "enabling it to retain the technological edge over all its enemies, near and far."

Obama does not have to fear Netanyahu's reaction since the latter's popularity at home is diminishing. According to a recent opinion poll by Tel Aviv University, only 34 per cent of Israelis support his government. A Haaretz poll found that the prime minister suffers from a poor job-approval rating — 44 per cent of Israelis are not satisfied with his performance, while only 42 per cent support the prime minister.

Moreover, the Middle East Quartet (United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States), which earlier this month condemned Israel's decision to advance the construction of new colony units in occupied East Jerusalem, will most certainly support any stiff US action against the present Israeli government. These parties all probably realise that under these circumstances the projected "proximity talks" between Palestinians and Israelis will be fruitless, if not the whole idea of a two-state solution.

Another serious bump in the road for the Netanyahu government is the British government's expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over the use of 12 forged British passports by the recent killers of a Hamas leader in Dubai. Passports from France, Ireland, Germany and Australia were also forged in the operation, and these countries are also known to be investigating Israel's role.

George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com